A diagnosis of epilepsy often brings with it additional challenges. For someone like Kelly Crawford, who was diagnosed at 12, it brought denial, embarrassment, anger, and depression. Having seizures at school only made things harder, and as a result she became closed-off socially and relied heavily on just a couple close friends for support. Academics were never a problem, but dealing with mental health challenges on top of an epilepsy diagnosis made her teenage years and early 20’s a constant struggle.
“I regret not being more active in my mental health treatment at a young age because it could have helped me tremendously. I want young people to know that epilepsy and mental health are nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kelly.
While she’s still constantly aware of her seizures and the consequences of having one, Kelly is now focused on being a positive influence for students like her. She earned her master’s degree in social work in 2013 and completed her principal certification this past June. She currently works as a social worker for Rochester public schools, primarily at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center, and has the goal of becoming an administrator at an alternative high school.
“I love working in education and enjoy working at alternative schools. I struggled as an adolescent with mental health and can relate to the students I work with,” says Kelly. “I want to be an administrator because I have a more holistic view of children and believe that well-being comes before academics. Many administrators are worried about academics first and do not realize that students are only successful academically if they have their personal lives in order. I want to help make schools a place where students can both learn and be provided with opportunities for personal growth.”
This desire to help others led Kelly to join the Epilepsy Foundation’s Regional Advisory Committee (RAC) in Rochester. RAC members promote epilepsy awareness in their communities, provide input on how to better serve their region, and promote seizure recognition and response trainings.
One such program they promote is Seizure Smart Schools, which brings students, teachers, and staff together to foster understanding of epilepsy in schools and teach seizure first aid. While the main focus is on creating a safe school environment through seizure first aid training, a secondary benefit is using education to eliminate the negative stigma associated with epilepsy.
“I think it’s important for people to know about epilepsy because it is a disease that does not discriminate against age, race, or gender. A seizure can happen to anyone, at any moment, at any location. It can be a scary situation so it is better to be prepared than caught off guard,” says Kelly.